There I was in a room full of political fanatics.
All divided up into groups. Some with just a few people. Some with lots of people. Everybody was yelling at everybody else to come join them.
We were “caucusing,” part of the political process back in the very early ‘80s in Missouri.
I’d just moved to Missouri for a job. I didn’t know anybody. Some fool at the hospital where I was working told me that participating in Missouri’s political causes would be a great way to meet people.
I met people alright. People that I became, and still am, good friends with. Some, I hope I never see again.
I bring this up because Iowa is “caucusing” and, if you’ve never “done it” – and in Texas, we don’t “do it” – well, you just can’t fathom what it’s like to be locked, yes, locked up, in a room full of what I already said – political fanatics.
It happened to me almost 40 years ago, so the memory is a little nebulous but one thing I do remember, we were all members of the same party. How could we all be so contrary?
Lots of us don’t know what a caucus is. I certainly didn’t all those years ago. In Nebraska, like Texas, we had primaries where you declare your party at the election center, then go into the voting booth and choose your candidates to represent your party at the general election.
Neat and clean. No drama. You don’t even have to talk with anyone. And you’re on your way in minutes, assuming there aren’t any lines.
That’s not what happened at the caucus I attended in Missouri. Oh, what an experience.
We had to be there promptly at 6 p.m. There were a couple hundred of us in that precinct. After proving we were card-carrying members of the party and registered to vote, we went to the corner of the room that displayed the name of our candidate. Some were groups of just one or two, others had 10 or 15 people, a couple had 50 or 60.
Sounds benign? Not on your life. These were passionate political junkies who had worked all day and were taking the next three or four hours to convince me and everybody else that their candidate would be the best nominee for president of the United States.
When I started my career as a newspaper reporter, I learned to avoid zealous people because, if they were zealous about their cause, there was no other cause that was as important as their cause, and they wanted their cause on the front page of every issue.
And here I was in a sea of zealousness. I remember thinking, how could so many people so passionate about the same party be so unalike?
The largest, loudest and most aggressive group finally won me over, probably because I’d worked all day at a new job and I had to be back at the hospital, bright and bubbly, in seven hours.
Missouri traded in their presidential caucus for primaries a few years ago. I could only find six states that still use caucuses – Maine, Kansas, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming and, of course, Iowa.
Thinking back, as brutal as that night was, I learned a lot about my fellow Kansas Citians. Even those of us in the same tent don’t necessarily think alike. And I met some wonderful people, some I keep in touch with.
I understand, though, why most states don’t caucus any more. It’s not easy to carve out three or four hours in an evening when you’ve got a demanding job, when you’re commuting, when you’ve got kids to take care of.
And a lot of us don’t even bother to vote.
Most of the people I saw at that Missouri caucus were young college kids who have the time, or retired people who have the time, not a good representation.
Still, there’s something to be said for putting a bunch of people in the same room to debate who should be nominated for president.
I wonder if that would work in Texas?